What is a Narcissistic Mother?
Technically, a Narcissistic Mother (NM) would be a mother with a high level of narcissism and, possibly, a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), which would require a diagnosis by a mental health professional.
This may be in many cases too extreme and too narrow a definition.
We would define a Narcissistic Mother more broadly as one who, instead of building up her children and equipping them for an independently happy life, shapes them to satisfy her own needs.
The narcissistic mother will smother, ignore, punish, envy, control, stifle, and even break the confidence of her own children if necessary.
Cruelty endured from one’s mother is unlike any otherLawson, Christine Ann, 2000 Understanding the Borderline Mother (p. 289)
Most of the time, this behavior is unconscious and self-justified.
In other words, while the ‘good enough’ mother teaches her children to fly on their own, the narcissistic mother either clips their wings or attaches a string to their legs so that they will never fly away. She likely feels perfectly entitled to do that.
She may even truly believe that she is a loving mother, especially if her inflated self-image is of the “altruistic” variety.
There is a fantastic description of Adult Children of Narcissistic Mothers that appears on many websites. This long list of characteristics seems to hit the nail on the head for many adult children of narcissistic mothers.
It isn’t clear who the original author is but it may have been written by someone called Chris, and may originate from this page.
If you’re wondering if your mother might be a narcissist, I highly recommend you read the full description but here’s a summary (the headlines):
The Destructive Narcissistic Parent creates a child that only exists to be an extension of herself. It’s about secret things. It’s about body language. It’s about disapproving glances. It’s about vocal tone. It’s very intimate. And it’s very powerful. It’s part of who the child is.
Everything she does is deniable
She violates your boundaries
She demeans, criticizes and denigrates
She makes you look crazy
She’s a liar in too many ways to count
She has to be the center of attention all the time
She manipulates your emotions in order to feed on your pain
She’s selfish and willful
She is insanely defensive and is extremely sensitive to any criticism
She is rejecting
She’s infantile and petty
She is never wrong about anything
Sometimes she seems to have no awareness that other people even have feelings, and other times she is brilliantly sensitive to other people’s emotions
She manufactures “no-win” situations
She’s shameless. She doesn’t ask. She demands.
She destroys your relationships
As a last resort she goes pathetic
She divides to rule; She competes with her own children and can see them as a threat
She seduces and can be charming at will
She is unpredictable“Chris”
Overall, a narcissistic mother is a mother who, instead of nurturing her children, is mainly or only focused on herself.
Imagine a person in survival mode who cannot, therefore, look after anyone else for fear of death. The NM either uses her children or tries to destroy anything in them that she perceives as a threat.
You are seen as either with her or against her. Attention and “love” are the rewards for compliance and good service. Negligence and abuse are the punishment for trying to separate, and not being of use. Although abuse is also seen as useful when the NM projects her negative feelings onto her children.
Overall, the NM is too caught in herself to be aware and interested in her children’s feelings.
This is character and soul destroying for us, the children. The most difficult is to accept that our mother, who can pretend or occasionally appear to love, isn’t capable of true, selfless, and unconditional love. She never will be.
We must find love elsewhere. Maternal love is not a reality in our lives. But true love from other sources, including ourselves, can be part of our lives.
Perhaps the biggest lie ever perpetrated on society is that all mothers love their children.
In spite of all the cases of abuse, neglect, and sometimes murder, society is in denial.
Denial is the first, and possibly biggest hurdle that we have to jump on our way to freedom.
The Different Types Of Narcissistic Mothers
Narcissistic mothers come in all shapes and sizes.
In fact, like anyone else, each one of them is most certainly a unique specimen, the result of their unique background, experience, and conditioning. However, ‘labels’ or categories can help us understand them better and communicate about them between ourselves.
Dr. Karyl McBride, a licensed marriage and family therapist is the author of a book for our sisters, the daughters of narcissistic mothers (DoNM). Dr. McBride identifies what she calls the “six faces of maternal narcissism”. These are:
Types of Narcissistic Mothers
> The Flamboyant-ExtrovertKaryl McBride, Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers , Free Press: September 2009,Paperback, 272 pages, pp46-57)
> The Accomplishment-Oriented
> The Psychosomatic
> The Addicted
> The Secretly Mean
> The Emotionally Needy
You can read an article by Dr. McBride on the six faces here.
Dr. McBride is careful to explain that a narcissistic mother can be “primarily one type or a combination of several of these”. More broadly, she sees two opposing types of parenting by NM: over-parenting by the “engulfing mother”, or under-parenting by the “ignoring mother”
All of this shows how different each one of our narcissistic mothers can be. Added to this is the fact that the NM, like all narcissists, does not want to be unmasked, and will therefore deny and hide her narcissism.
Let’s not forget that the narcissist spends a lot of energy maintaining the illusion of their false self. It is a question of life or death for them.
On top of this, there is the entourage’s denial. Most of us had to deal with our friends saying: “But your mother is great!”
This makes it really difficult for children of narcissists to acknowledge the truth and overcome their own denial and doubts. Validation is key to us.
Sadly, like most things, we have to rely mainly on ourselves for validation. We need to trust ourselves in the labyrinth of deceit created by the narcissist.
Thankfully, there seems to be a growing awareness about NMs. Books, websites, blogs, etc., and finding a therapist or coach who understands these issues (and may have themselves the personal experience of living with an NPD), can help us greatly in the process of validation and recovery.
The Six-Year-Old Mother
Narcissistic Mothers are emotionally immature. This becomes particularly obvious during some episodes of narcissistic rage or other circumstances where the mask is lifted for a while (for example when they are physically hurt or scared).
You may suddenly feel that you are dealing with a little girl or an adolescent at best. In some circumstances, even the voice of the NM changes and sounds like that of a child, or the vocabulary is that of a child. For example, after a fall, a NM may call for her mommy in a childish voice, just like a little girl would.
For some SoNMs, having a NM is like living under the dictatorship of a six-year-old girl with the body, intellect, and power of an adult.
One tip for dealing with a NM as an adult is to see through the curtain of deceit: Imagine that your mother is six-year-old hiding in the body of a grown-up.
Suddenly, her abusive words and her crazy behaviors can be seen for what they are. If you’ve ever seen The Wizard of OZ, you will remember that OZ was in fact a weak and frightened little man hiding behind the mask of a frightening wizard.
Once the mask has fallen, there is no reason to be sacred or intimidated anymore.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder?
Labels and categories, or types, are quite useful, but may sometimes be reductive, misleading, and confusing. This seems to be true regarding the distinction between narcissistic mothers and borderline mothers.
Many people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) also seem to have a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). In fact, depending on the source and the study, the “co-morbidity”, or co-occurrence, seems to vary between 15% and 39%.
The higher results come from research including NPDs that are not aware of their condition. Whereas people with BPD are more willing to confront their condition, NPDs rarely do, and therefore it is quite difficult to measure. Whichever way you look at it, there are good chances to have a mother with both disorders.
For some adult children, in particular, the distinction between BPD and NPD is unclear. For all these reasons, we feel it important to also look at borderline mothers in our examination of narcissistic mothers.
“BDP or NPD? That is the question…”
Dr. Dan S. Lobel writes about the differences between Narcissistic and Borderline Mothers in an online article entitled The Borderline/Narcissistic Mother: Brutal Womb vs. Barren Womb
Dr. Christine Ann Lawson describes four types of borderline mothers which, she stresses, “are not mutually exclusive”
The four types of Borderline Mothers:
> The Waif (Cinderella)Lawson, Christine Ann (2000). Understanding the Borderline Mother (pp. 36-37). Jason Aronson, Inc. Kindle Edition
> The Hermit (Snow White)
> The Queen
> The Witch
While the Waif and the Hermit belong more clearly to the Borderline category, and, as archetypes, don’t appear to belong to the NPD category, the Queen and the Witch, on the other hand, are very reminiscent of narcissistic mothers.
Dr. Lawson also compares the “Maternal Functioning” of the good enough mother with the borderline mother. Many if not all of the behaviors attributed to borderline mothers may also apply to narcissistic mothers:
|The Good Enough Mother||The Borderline Mother|
|Comforts her child||Confuses her child|
|Apologizes for inappropriate behavior||Does not apologize or remember inappropriate behavior|
|Takes care of herself||Expects to be taken care of|
|Encourages independence in her children||Punishes or discourages independence|
|Is proud of her children’s accomplishments||Envies, ignores, or demeans her children’s accomplishments|
|Builds her children’s self-esteem||Destroys, denigrates, or undermines self-esteem|
|Responds to her children’s changing needs||Expects children to respond to her needs|
|Claims and comforts her children||Frightens and upsets her children|
|Disciplines with logical and natural consequences||Disciplines inconsistently or punitively|
|Expects that her children will be loved by others||Feels left out, jealous, or resentful if the child is loved by someone else|
|Never threatens abandonment||Uses threats of abandonment (or actual abandonment) to punish the child|
|Believes in her children’s basic goodness||Does not believe in her children’s basic goodness|
|Trusts her children||Does not trust her children|
IAN’S TAKE: My Mother Is A Covert Bully
Like me, you will make your own conclusions from your readings. Each one of us has a different mother who falls in her very own category.
I’d say that mine is a Queen and Witch, Secretly Mean narcissist. But originally, before hearing about narcissistic mothers, I would have just said that she was very “special”, sometimes mad, sometimes like a six-year-old, and sometimes very inconsiderate.
One day, I typed “Bully mother” in Google, and I discovered the concept of NPD mothers. It was like a revelation.
In the following days and weeks, I went through what felt like an epiphany. I had some “ha-ha” moments and was quite overwhelmed with feelings. One was a feeling of liberation and hope “the truth will set you free” that came to my mind many times.
This was in January 2013, at the age of 43. I have since started psychotherapy with a therapist familiar with children of NPDs and who amongst other things has attended training at the Meadows with Pia Mellody, author of Facing Codependence and Breaking Free.
I’ve also started attending CODA meetings. Starting this website is part of my recovery. It helps me understand my story, but it is also an attempt to share and learn from other adult children of narcissistic mothers.
Understanding my mother’s “condition” and learning how to deal with her is one of the great challenges. I have not gone “No Contact” (NC) in spite of her continuing covert and destructive manipulations.
When I first “discovered” that my mother was NPD (as I understand NPD), I tried to share this with my elder sister and my much younger brother (the golden or all-good child). I sent my sister a copy of Karyl McBride’s book for narcissistic daughters.
Even though I don’t agree with Dr. McBride’s take on SoNMs, I thought this would actually work for my sister who is quite obviously convinced that my brother and I (“the boys” as she calls us) had and continue to have a much easier ride than her (It’s funny how she remembers all the terrible things my mom did to her but she can’t remember that I was badly treated too, even though for example she was there for most of the beatings).
But my sister read “my” book and wasn’t convinced. She said that it wasn’t really our mom in the book, that the author herself still seemed to have quite a few issues, etc. I didn’t want to argue with her on this. I accepted her view as her view. In the same way that I accepted that my brother said he didn’t have the energy to look into this.
Unfortunately, both my brother and sister have since spent a summer holiday with my mother. Since then, my brother and I haven’t really spoken even though he came to live 300 yards from where I live.
My wife and I used to see them every other weekend. We would babysit our newborn niece sometimes for an entire weekend. We haven’t been asked for a single babysitting since last summer.
My mother is coming from abroad to look after her for a weekend while my sister-in-law is away. Nothing was said clearly to us. We just had to witness the difference in attitude. When my wife raised something with my sister-in-law it was met with a firm rebuttal, a very aggressive denial, and a counterattack.
My mother never questioned why we don’t see them or her granddaughter anymore. Because she knows. I don’t know what she said or what she did. We believe that someone must have told her that we suspected she was NPD.
Did I mention that my mother is a self-taught psychotherapist? She claims to be really very good, to heal people who’ve been in therapy with others for years in a matter of weeks.
So, she knows even better than most how to get into someone’s brain. Sometimes she makes me think of Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the Silence of the Lambs.
But there is a limit to what she can destroy.
Yes, she can manipulate my brother, my sister, their spouses, and children. But she can’t get to my father anymore (he died of cancer 7 years ago – Apparently, I had something to do with it, my mom said to me once). I can only look at all this in sadness. I am determined not to let her trigger me anymore.
I am lucky to have a wonderful and loving wife. She suffers with me, but she understands and sees what is going on. We never had children, and, in a way, it comforts me to know that the cycle is broken.
Only our dogs had to suffer my rages when they would crap in the dining room. I try to repair those episodes of abuse. My dogs have taught me that love is about rejoicing in seeing them happy, regardless of me.
I am wounded, damaged, and fighting for a way out of misery. I am hopeful. I understand better what my life has been about.
I feel for all who haven’t had the love of a mother. I am not alone anymore.